This His Dark Materials article contains spoilers through Episode 2. You can check out our His Dark Materials spoiler-free review here.
His Dark Materials is a fantasy novel and now TV show set in another world, which gives its setting a slightly out-of-time, or even period, quality. However, as we learn from “The Idea of the North,” the second episode in HBO-BBC’s TV adaptation of the beloved children’s book series, this story is also set in our world, which means it takes place at a recognizable point in time. What year is His Dark Materials set in? Let’s break it down…
While The Golden Compass and the other books in the His Dark Materials book series are set in the mid-90s, contemporary to when they were written, the TV adaptation is set contemporary to when it was made, which is to say now. When Lord Boreal crosses over to our world (also known as Will’s World, to book readers) in Episode 2, we see a modern Oxford with all of the technology of today, including smart phones and fancy coffee shops.
“We wanted to make it work for 2019 and [book series author] Philip [Pullman] was fine on that,” executive producer Jane Tranter told EW of the change. “We then were just mindful of how technology makes a difference…”
How does that change the story? Tranter said it was important to think about how the evolution of technology affects in particular the characters traveling to Will’s World from Lyra’s World.
“The rule of The Magisterium in Lyra’s world, the whole point of their rule is to discourage learning and information and exploration,” explained Tranter. “They want the world to be the same so they can control it. We, therefore, very deliberately designed Lyra’s world to have gone through neither an industrial revolution nor a technological revolution. It would be clear to us that when a character like Boreal crosses through to our world, he would be completely fascinated by information being free and what technology could offer.”
Because of this alternate historical development, Lyra’s World can feel slightly archaic as compared to ours—especially in the sheltered world of Jordan College. However, it technically, is contemporary to our own timeline, if that even helps as a parallel world metric.